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Dental sealants are a common tool used by dentists to protect teeth, but what are they exactly and why should your child get them? In this post we’ll give you all the details and answer the most frequently asked questions about sealants.

A four-year-old boy sits in a tree with a smile

What do sealants for teeth do?

Imagine that a tooth is like a house. The outside walls are exposed to the wind, rain, and beating hot Austin sun. Over time, the weather breaks down the paint job on the exterior wall. A special sealing paint may be applied as a barrier to preserve the house.

Sealants for teeth work in a similar way. When we eat, food particles stick to our teeth and the acid wears down our enamel. Once this process starts, the tooth is in danger of decay (cavities). Sealants are a thin barrier that protects tooth enamel.

How effective are dental sealants for kids?

Very! According to a study of school-aged children, kids who didn’t have sealants were three times more likely to have cavities. However, they are NOT a substitute for regular brushing and flossing. That should still be a part of your daily routine. Think of the sealant as bonus protection for the teeth that are most at risk for decay.

Sealants aren’t permanent. They will last for years, but may begin to wear down. This is something the dentist will check at your child’s twice-yearly checkups. If the sealant is no longer protecting the tooth, it can be replaced. Adults can even get sealants!

Who should get dental sealants? Are they for everyone?

Almost anyone who has molar or premolar teeth is a good candidate for sealants. Those are the flat topped teeth in the back of the mouth that we use for chewing and are sometimes difficult to clean.

If a child is ready and cooperative, we like to seal molars as soon as they come in. Patients who are at high risk of developing cavities due to deep pits or family history, may have sealants placed on their baby teeth, which are usually fully in at 3-4 years old. When the permanent molars start to come in at around 6-7 years old, we want to seal them as soon as possible. Those teeth are going to have to last for a long time!

If a child isn’t ready to sit still yet or is very anxious, we sometimes have them wait. While sealants are extremely important, we don’t want to create a situation where the child is afraid of the dentist and refuses to come back for routine care.

How are sealants applied? Does it hurt?

The procedure is painless, however it does require the patient to be still for a few moments while the sealant is applied and hardened. This is not too difficult for dentists who are experienced working with children.

The tooth is first thoroughly cleaned and isolated from saliva. There are different ways to keep the tooth area dry and the dentist will work with your child to make them as comfortable as possible.

The tooth is then prepared with a gel so that the surface will bond to the sealant. The actual sealant is also a liquid consistency. The dentist puts the sealant material into the deep grooves and pits in the chewing surface of the tooth. (You might see a syringe, but there’s no needle! That’s just how the material is easily squeezed into the tight space.)

Once the sealant has been applied, it just needs a few seconds to ‘cure’ or harden. Then dentist will then check to make sure it’s correctly applied. In all, the process usually takes just a few minutes per tooth.